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Friday, February 19, 2010

Selling controversy the Bollywood way




SRK’s My Name is Khan saw one of the biggest controversies in Bollywood recently. We take a look at some headlines from the past.

While the Shiv Sena rage in Mumbai over My Name is Khan finally favoured the film's makers, Shah Rukh Khan rubbished that it was a calculated publicity gimmick. "I want to enjoy my film everywhere, I want to enjoy it within myself and to sickos who think this is for publicity, I have two words, 'SHUT UP',” tweeted Shah Rukh to clear his stand.

We look back at similar controversies raising questions on films that smell strongly of having resorted to marketing strategies, stage-managed to look like controversies.

The early days of online publicity

Every passing day, top stars of Bollywood are tearing their hair out to reach out to their target audience - India first and then the world.

Priyadarshan apologises to SRK over 'publicity' comment

One such strategy they discovered two years ago was blogging. Amitabh Bachchan set the ball rolling. He blogged about everything from game shows to losing his luggage at Toronto airport to his anger against the 26/11 tragedy. Aamir Khan used his blog to take pot-shots at rival Shah Rukh Khan.

But this did not have the desired effect, so everyone decided to go back to mainstream ways of promoting their films.

The Om Shanti Om technique

Ghajini and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi are two very good examples that did not try either controversy or strategised product placements. Blogging is now being replaced by tweeting on Twitter or 'facing' on Facebook, two blog-friendly sites Bollywood celebrities love. They even direct readers to the controversy about their film/role - as Shah Rukh did about the controversy over the release of My Name is Khan.

My Name Is Khan earns Rs.250 mn on opening day

Khan, however, has always been open about his brazen marketing and promotional strategies. This makes it difficult to link him to a cooked up controversy staged with the connivance of one of the most notorious political parties in Maharashtra.

For Om Shanti Om, his marketing strategy was a precisely planned exercise that offered a model lesson in mainstream marketing. Non-stop television promotions, tie-ups with news channels and popular online websites, birthdays celebrated with the media, his six-pack tagline created for the film, cricket matches and the Om Shanti Om clothesline.

The result - in spite of the storyline borrowed from earlier films of Bollywood and Hollywood, in spite of a weak script, crowded by paper-thin characters and average acting, the film went on to become a box-office hit.

The big Bhagnani fight

Pre-release controversies are not new. No one really knows whether these are stage-managed or coincidences or genuine controversies. The media in print, on television news channels and on the Internet, ever hungry to pounce on such controversies, go ga-ga over these while the actor/producer/distributor/exhibitor laugh all the way to the box office.

No MNIK row if Bollywood had unity: Anurag Kashyap

"Controversies create awareness, but there is no guarantee," says Mahesh Bhatt, who plugged a couple of his films to his link-up with Parveen Babi.

On the eve of the release of Vashu Bhagnani's Kal Kissne Dekha, director Vivek Sharma went public with his problems with Bhagnani during the making of the film.

One story, denied vehemently by both Bhagnani and Sharma, is that Bhagnani had slapped Sharma. The more believable one concerned payment.

My Name Is Khan running big in Karachi

Sharma insisted that Bhagnani had paid him just 30 per cent of the money agreed upon for his earlier film Bhootnath. Bhagnani claimed he was innocent. Sharma then said that though he directed KKD, he was not allowed to see the entire film because Bhagnani had re-edited it to focus on his son Jackky who was making his debut.

Sharma was about to take Bhagnani to court when the Bhatt brothers intervened, and requested him to opt for an out-of-court settlement. We do not know if this controversy was genuine or not. All we know is that it did nothing to boost box office stakes of KKD.

Lesbians and Monisha Koirala

Karan Razdan's low brow Girlfriend, released a few years ago, gained at the box-office after a tame start. Touted as a film on a lesbian relationship between two young girls, it attracted protests from political parties and generated a lot of debate in the media. The film made on a budget of Rs.20 million (approximately), finished its first week with an improved collection of 50 per cent, which would never have happened minus the protests and the media hype created not by publicity posters and advertising inserts, but by news stories.

"The post-release controversy and the hype generated seem to have helped the first week's performance of Girlfriend remarkably,” said film writer and industry analyst Taran Adarsh.

SRK apologises for 'giving stress' to fans over My Name Is Khan row

Actress Monisha Koirala took filmmaker Shashilal Nair to court. She claimed that he had used a body double in a negative way in Ek Chhotisi Love Story, plagiarised from Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Love. A political party blocked the screening of the film in metro theatres. Trade journals insist that this controversy turned out to be a windfall for the producer who reaped unexpected revenues from its run.

But Nair says the court case lightened his pocket by Rs 5 million and the controversy actually backfired.

Keep 'em coming

A staged controversy can act like a blessing in the hands of a strategic manipulator. If used by the wrong group in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can equally become the most lethal weapon that can kill a film. Non-cooperation from stars, sudden changes in scripts, casting, technical team troubles, rumoured romances and splits, publicity posters and 'anything and everything' are being used as an important ingredient for creating and then solving controversies to ensure the commercial success of a film.

Why we need controversy

Every producer, actor, financier, distributor, exhibitor and director involved in each of the 1,000 films released every year fight the same war at the box office, which is a rather fickle master. In an ambiance dominated by elite multiplex theatres with up-market, sophisticated infrastructure, to resort to any strategy, ethical or unethical, direct or subversive is mandatory to ensure that the audience feel that this is a not-to-be-missed film. This is the only way to win in the cut-throat competition where a film like 3 Idiots rules the roost with its very unconventional marketing strategy.

This makes it problematic for successors to race it to the winning post. The media, in such cases, is mere putty in the hands of these manipulators-that-be.

A Bengali television channel moderator turned filmmaker, Aniket Chatterjee, said the controversy over My Name is Khan will make it to front page headlines in the national press on Saturday morning, the day after its release on February 12.

At the end of the day

He could not have been more correct. He added that 70+ men and women who followed the controversy on television or in the papers, who hated Hindi films, and never went to the theatres would surely want to watch this film just to find out what the controversy was all about. Shah Rukh Khan may still say 'SHUT UP' since the MNIK controversy stemmed from his harmless comment on Pakistani players, but the film industry has always been controversy's favourite child.

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